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The law and ethics of posting photos on social media

In this day and age of rampant digital content sharing and privacy concerns, I have found a lot of business owners I work with are scared to take photos to post to social media for fear of backlash. To help clear up where posting photos online sits in terms of the law and ethical considerations, I have put together some guidelines. This information has been curated from a number of law sites, such as Go to Court Australia & Youth Law Australia.

The law and the ethical of posting photos on social media | CLP Advertising

According to Youth Law Australia, “There are no laws preventing an individual taking your photo in a public place and posting it online.” So, if you are taking photos in a public place and someone is in that photo, there are no legal ramifications if you post it on social media (with the exception of someone doing something “indecent”, which could then become a legal matter).

However, just because there is no law, there are ethics to consider. Some people are uncomfortable having their photo taken, so always be considerate of their feelings. If you taking photos and you notice someone appears unhappy about being in the frame, I would suggest going over to talk to them about your picture and its purpose. Show them the photo too, and if they like it they will probably ask you to send them a copy. This can be good for two reasons.

  1. It is an email to add to your contact list
  2. It gives you an in to ask them if you can use it on your social media

It also pays to have a release form handy in case you are in this situation, which you can give to someone on the spot or you can email it to them later. Generally speaking, if people like the photo then they are happy to sign the release, giving you express permission to publish it with their image. If they happen to not like the photo, I suggest offering to delete it and trying the scene again. There is always a reason for their objection, and it is important not to judge or make them feel uncomfortable.

Once you have your photo, is it ok to use it for advertising (ie commercial gain)? The Australian Consumer Law prevents companies and businesses from misleading and deceiving consumers, which means as a business you cannot publish an image or video promoting goods or services without permission from the talent (the people in the image). To publish someone’s picture for advertising, a waiver or release form is a MUST.

Click Download below for a copy of our general release forms.

When is it illegal to photograph someone without permission?

Source: Gotocourt.com.au

As Australian law stands, you may be committing an offence if you photograph someone without their permission or publish a photo of someone without permission in the following circumstances:

  • Publication of naked or sexually explicit photographs
  • Publication of content that harasses, intimidates or humiliates a person, or is deemed as stalking or offensive
  • Publication of intimate images without consent (commonly known as ‘revenge porn’)
  • Publishing an image of a person accessing or leaving an abortion clinic is an offence in some jurisdictions under ‘safe access zone’ laws

When is it illegal to photograph someone (even with permission)?

I am sure this information isn’t needed by our community, but it is relevant to the topic. A photo cannot be taken of someone under the following circumstances:

  • Sexual imagery of anyone under the age of 18; this includes publishing or distributing naked images
  • Taking photographs or videos in areas where photography is prohibited, such as inside a court 
  • Taking photographs or videos in areas where a person can reasonably expect privacy, such as in a changing room or public toilet

What to do if you find an unwanted picture of yourself online

If you find a photo of yourself online that you did not give permission for and would like removed, these are the steps to take:

  1. Start by asking the person or company who is using your photo to remove it. Keep your request civil and try to understand that the business is just making a living and keeping up with the times in this digital age. If they refuse to take the picture down, you can move to the next steps.
  2. You can lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Board. Their website is: https://adstandards.com.au/
  3. You can also make a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) via http://www.accc.gov.au/ or head to https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection to contact the WA Consumer Protection – Department of Commerce.

The same courtesies apply if you are a business owner and someone asks you to remove an image of them. Please be polite, apologise and remove the image right away. It is not worth the stress you will put on yourself or the other person if you refuse, not the money you will spend fighting the request if they take it further.

For more in-depth information on the laws and ethics of posting photos online, visit the following pages:

To help you include more images in your digital marketing without the stress, we will be posting more about copyright laws and give you some great free places to download images to use throughout your campaigns.